In Lines: A Brief History (2007), anthropologist Tim Ingold observes, “What is a thing, or indeed a person, if not a tying together of the lines—the paths of growth and movement—of all the many constituents gathered there?” Sarah Sze’s first solo exhibition in Philadelphia materializes just these sorts of ephemeral, linear traces throughout the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s three floors of gallery space. The show is the culmination of a non-traditional residency, in which the artist collaborated with the Fabric Workshop’s preparators mainly remotely from her New York studio.
On the first floor, two near-equally sized rooms—the reception and a cozy gallery space—are related asymmetrically. The reception, co-opted by Sze, contains only the museum’s front desk and a few appropriate objects—green plants, a telephone, a cup; the gallery installation centers on a porous, desk-like structure made of sticks of thick, roughly soldered wire. Linearity is this installation’s formal priority. Next to a loose weaving of thick, cream colored wool, luminous lilac-blue thread winds around the wire, pulls down and along the floor, and wraps around a small rock, tracing its contours; coils of electricity cables match the gentle curves of thin, metallic light fixtures.
Speaking about her Random Walk Drawings (2011) series in Sculpture (September 2012), Sze comments, “All of it had to do with the idea of an extended line that goes through something invisible—from the interior of the museum to the outside.” Developing this sensibility, several of the Fabric Workshop objects signal connections between the museum and elsewhere. For example, on both desks are blue-and-white, used Amtrak coffee cups—metonyms for the railway line between New York and Philadelphia, and metaphors for the creative back-and-forth between Sze and the museum’s preparators.
Due to the building’s structure and the works’ fragility, a guide leads visitors on an elevator tour through the exhibition from the first to the third floor. This increases awareness of one’s own movement producing an experience of narrative progression and growth, as certain objects and images reappear throughout. Passing through the second floor gallery, which has been transformed into a landscape of massive paper boulders, one can imagine the first floor’s lilac-blue thread traveling up the walls and delineating these meticulously constructed, rounded forms.
If the first floor installation focuses tightly on the contents of a room and the second expands to a panorama, the final installation zooms out further, to include the world. It comprises lines and surfaces of global significance, represented by altered New York Times front pages laid flat on the floor and covered with strategically placed mounds of elemental and artistic materials, such as white sugar, grey stone, brown cloth, and blue paint. The broadsheets cluster at the right hand side of the gallery and then fan out across the space; skeins of orange and black cables, connected to slim lamps, trace pathways between the pages that might—like the Random Walk Drawings—exceed the gallery’s limits. This layout suggests chains of events, headlines happening one after another, and indicates that the studio, the workshop, and the museum are inextricably bound to what unfolds outside of their walls.